In the early Protestant theology the entire Scripture was the basis of theological knowledge; in modern theology the historic Christ is regarded as the only source of knowledge of God and things divine. It is admitted that God makes himself known by inner workings in the spirit, but it is claimed that real, that is, clear, certain, and general knowledge flows only from that medium through which the subjective experiences of Christians are conveyed, from the Christ of tradition. Nature and extra-Christian history are considered as sources which, without Christ, are ambiguous and enigmatical. Even the practical reason can give only a religion of morality, and not a sin-forgiving grace.
If it be asked what is there in Christ that gives knowledge of God and things divine, the answer must be, his faith in them and his communion with God, his self-consciousness and his moral character as it influences the world. The primitive Christian tradition concerning the words of Jesus and His deeds, by which His inmost being is made known, is dominated by faith in the infinite value of his death, in his resurrection and exaltation to lordship over the world, and in his return to earth. Moreover, inasmuch as the inner life of Jesus, his spirit, i.e., his faith and moral character, became to a certain extent the common spirit of the congregation of his disciples during their intercourse with him, the primitive Christian knowledge of God himself, of divine things, and of moral relationship must to some extent be.regarded, in general, as the influence of the earthly Christ. The Holy Spirit, who spoke and speaks out of the oral and written preaching of the primitive Christians, can not be regarded as a new and second principle of the knowledge of God. For if we, like them, by no means conceive our religious and moral knowledge as a mere after-effect of the earthly Christ, we nevertheless do regard it as an effect of Christ himself--of the exalted Christ. "The historic Christ, the only principle of divine knowledge," means for us also the Christ who manifests himself from heaven as the risen one, thus converting a Saul, and now delaying his return. The Lutheran view, that inspirations are bound to external media, from which the real knowledge flows, is true also of primitive Christianity: the matters of common knowledge proceed from the pneumatic manifestations of the exalted Christ and from the tradition of the pneumatic life of the earthly Christ. We may abide by the interpretation of John xvi. 12-15, which declares that the Spirit only glorifies the sole exegete of God (John i. 18) by teaching how he may be more and more perfectly known.
But did the human race have a finished knowledge of its Redeemer by the time the apostles died? There was no want of great men after this, who were able, under the influence of new historic manifestations, to discover here and there some unhewn stones in the Evangelical tradition; Athanasius, Augustine, Luther may be named. Though they have not in the least surpassed the apostolic knowledge of Christ, they none the less have deepened the understanding of the apostles and their knowledge of him. The effects of the impersonal spirit of Jesus, of the spirit, originating from him, in the first primitive Christian Church as a whole, and of the spiritual factors at work in several individual cases in the days of primitive Christianity, unfold themselves in the whole history of the Church. The progress of secular science does not embarrass Jesus himself, who wished to be neither a naturalist nor a historian. We ought to permit ourselves no doubt concerning the fact, that it is not simply from a development within the Church that we have learned to separate the temporary husks from the divine, infallible spirit of Christ. If we believe that the living Christ dominates the whole history of thought, we can say that he interprets himself, the earthly Jesus, by means also of events and advances in knowledge that take place out of the sphere of church history; he spoke not only through the destruction of Jerusalem, but also through the destruction of the ancient conception of the world. The field in which Jesus sowed his word was time, his time, the future times. His spirit was not of time but of eternity; his word a germ which makes its full content and its peculiar character known only in the course of the historical development. Christ in the inmost content of his spiritual being was more than he could manifest (Sehleiermacher, Der christliche Glaube, § 93, 2). It is only in the entire course of the historical development of the Church that he can be understood in his entirety.
That the apostolic beginning of the process, which bore its fruit in the establishment of the Church and in the New Testament, has for this
But, just as the answer, that the essential is the unanimously received, is for several reasons unsatisfactory, so also is the assertion that everything taken from the history of the time is unessential. Does the denial of an independent newness in the case of all the New-Testament views conditioned by the history of the time mean also the sacrifice of their value as revelations? For example, is the thought that Jesus had a personal preexistence condemned merely because it is conditioned by a Jewish formula? Baldensperger has declared that even for Jesus himself it was a formula that explained his own personality, which he experienced as a wondrous mystery. In this, too, consists his originality, to speak with Wellhausen, that he perceived the true and eternal in the mass of chaotic rubbish, rejected the incidental, the caricatured, the dead elements, and in the lens of his individuality gathered together that which has eternal worth, the human-divine. But may not such a gathering have been also the pneumatic achievement of the spirit of a Paul, or of primitive Christianity as a whole? In this way, e.g., the whole primitive Christian angelology could be stamped as revelation. Scientific theology will no longer raise question about that. But not only that which the earthly Jesus himself gathered as eternally valid out of the mass of New-Testament factors that are historically conditioned is to be received as imperishable, but also that which, without contradicting the spirit of Jesus has, under the pneumatic manifestations of the Exalted one, undergone a new development out of that gathered by him. Thus, e.g., we judge the thought of Paul's faith concerning the incarnation of Christ Jesus as an ethical act of self-denying love, by virtue of which he "entirely emerges from the bounds of Jewish speculations about the Messiah" (Pfleiderer), without antagonizing the humble spirit of Jesus. On the other hand, it is impossible to construe the whole angelology common to primitive Christianity as a development of Jesus' belief concerning angels, which was, compared with that, meager and super-Jewish.|
BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Ritschl, Theologie und Metaphysik, Bonn, 1887; J. Kaftan, in Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, i (1891), 479-549; M. Kähler, Die Wissenschaft der christlichen Lehre, pp. 11 sqq., Leipsic, 1893; idem, Der sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtliche biblische Christus, ib. 1896; M. Reischle, Der Glaube an Jesus Christus und die geschichtliche Erforschung seines Lebens, Leipsic, 1893; idem, Der Streit über die Begründung des Glaubens auf den "geschichtlichen" Jesus Christus, in Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, vii (1897). 171-264; O. Ritschl, in Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, iii (1893), 371-426; W. Hermann, Der Verkehr des Christen mit Gott, Stuttgart, 1896; P. Kölbing, Die heilige Schrift als oberste Norm der christlichen Glaubenserkenntnis, Gnadau, 1896; G. Ecke, Die theologische Schule Albrecht Ritschls und die evangelische Kirche der Gegenwart, Berlin, 1897.
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